Temptations both secular and religious throw their sticky nets over a Catholic writer in this predictable but entertaining first novel by veteran journalist Wilkes (In Mysterious Ways, 1990; Merton by Those Who Knew Him Best, 1984; etc.). Joseph dwells in a spiritual vacuum; literary cocktail parties and casual sex no longer satisfy his needs. Casting about for new writing projects, he becomes intrigued by the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of New Citeaux (the Order to which Thomas Merton belonged). Joseph's agent, who talks in an incessant borscht-belt shtick (Wilkes's most successful comic invention), has Big Plans for Joseph's project (``Who's going to play you? Nolte, he can do serious....We're going for a feature on this one''). But once at the monastery, Joseph's life turns topsy-turvy. The beauty of the cloisters amazes him. An ex-Catholic siren draws him into her bed. Above all, he encounters Father Columban, the monastery's saintly leader, who won't let Joseph settle for less than everything (``Nothing is more worthwhile,'' insists the monk, ``than the pursuit of God''). Joseph's inner life blossoms, only to be followed by deeper angst. Meanwhile, a mystery unfolds as anonymous notes lead the writer to three men, all once would-be monks, who cast their shadows on the monastery: one is now a bitter pro-choice lawyer, another insane, the third a suicide--or was it murder? And who is sending those damning notes? Joseph's confusion reaches biblical proportions before things come to full flame, literally and figuratively, as arson strikes the monastery and Fr. Columban sets fire to Joseph's soul. To no one's surprise, least of all the reader's, at tale's end Joseph prepares to enter New Citeaux for good. Mildly tempting literary fare: a seriocomic, middle-aged-man-comes-of-age tale, with amusing but overdrawn characters, in which little happens before the overbaked conclusion. But good fun anyway, and effective recruitment for the monastic life.